Seven rural Texas communities have something in common besides their small populations - students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine's Rural Osteopathic Medical Education of Texas (ROME) program are doing third-year family medicine clerkship rotations in each of these cities. Although they are separated by many miles for this eight-week rotation, once a week they are able to join together via video conference with A. Clifton Cage, DO, Associate Professor of Medical Education.
Cage says John Bowling, DO, Professor of Rural Medicine and Assistant Dean of Rural Medical Education, and the driving force in developing rural clerkships, had been working for some time to find the best way to communicate with students while they are in rural locations, and the group conferencing seems to be the answer.
Students are located in Clifton, Eagle Lake, Eastland, Fredericksburg, Groesbeck, Mission and Perryton, Texas for the current rotation. Cage takes them through curriculum, kicking off each session by having students share an interesting case they saw since the previous week. The students can see up to six other faces on their screen at a time, allowing them interact with not only their professor, but each other, "face-to-face."
"This approach allows students located in rural areas of Texas to collaborate and learn with one another at a distance," says Sara Baber, EdD, Director of Online Education. "Web conferencing provides real-time data, audio and video communication, enabling them to participate in the online learning community and to feel less isolated during their rural learning experience."
In past years, ROME students would communicate via a conference call during this rotation, which Jose Cruz (TCOM '14) says is far less personal.
"The concept of visually interacting with your professor from a distance is very rewarding. It also gives us the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from one another," says Cruz. "It is a very unique experience - something that I have not experienced in other rotations."
Kelli Windsor (TCOM '14), who chose the rural medicine route for many reasons, says her favorite part of the weekly class is connecting with classmates to share stories and review the management of common medical conditions.
"One reason I chose rural medicine was the diversity of patients I get to see," Windsor says. "It makes the days really interesting when you're one of the only doctors in town, there are no specialists for many miles, and people walk in your office with all sorts of ailments - and I enjoy hearing about the things my classmates have seen."
Baber says the goal is to continually improve the online experience.
"We are working to enhance the communication software and expand the online learning network across more courses and programs," Baber says. "These collaborative communication technologies and applications enable all of us to reach out and touch more effectively with news, educational information and resources - supporting the institution's promise to create solutions for a healthier community."